Written by Paul Careless

In 1986 my Dad had just left the Army after serving for 24 years and bought a small, run down cafe in Stanmer Park, on the outskirts of Brighton. He ploughed all his life savings into it and we were going to make it a success as a family. It was our dream. My Mum and dad worked 14 hours a day for 7 days a week, and when they weren’t serving jacket potatoes, teas and scones to dog walkers they were painting, doing DIY and making the cafe better. I joined a new school and settled in quickly, something I was used to having moved schools so many times before following my Dad’s postings around the world. I remember my Dad in the Army dressed in his Mess Dress uniform with his large RSM badge on his sleeve and with his long row of medals lined along his chest. I remember the respect that he was given to him by younger soldiers. They all looked up to him, as did I. It was weird seeing him only a few months later wiping up the tables, listening to complaints about cold sausage rolls and doing the washing up. Nothing was below him. He was humble and hardworking.

It was in October 1987 that our lives changed. There was a great storm, a howling wind that blew all night and in the morning, we awoke to devastation. All the trees were uprooted and blown over. Thousands of them laying across roads and cars and even our own shed and greenhouse were demolished. Customers couldn’t get to the café for weeks as the roads were impassable without a 4X4. Business just died overnight.

That first day my Dad realised we were in trouble. He managed to get out and bought a chainsaw, an axe and a splitter and he began chopping the fallen trees. We sold our 3 series BMW car, my Dad’s pride and joy and bought a dirty, battered white transit van. We spent that entire winter chopping logs day and night which we sold by the van load around Brighton and Hove for £40 a load from one advert in the local paper. I would leave for my walk to school at 7am and my Dad would already be up chopping logs and when I’d get home at 4pm I would help him bag them up. We would then do 3 or 4 deliveries not getting home until gone 10 every night. We did that for six months, 7 days a week without respite. Because of that income the café survived. Although I was only 13 years old I clearly remember the sense of purpose that surrounded my Dad. Not once did I hear him say anything negative or show any concern at our obvious predicament. He just made things happen.

Today I run my own Companies. I have nearly 200 staff, turnover of £70m and make £25m a year in profit. I know what it takes to succeed.

I learnt a valuable lesson that I have used in my own darkest hours; even in the biggest setbacks in life, with the right mind-set, success is possible.


Paul Careless is a military veteran, a former police officer and now successfully owns and operates The Surge Group business portfolio

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